Positivity is something that comes up a lot when it comes to dealing with stressors in life. If you or someone you know is a caregiver, you’ve probably heard this advice from every angle. Focus on the positive! Be grateful for what you have! Think about what you can control and let go of what you can’t! While all these platitudes stem from a place of kindness, they can start to rankle for a caregiver who’s exhausted, stressed to the max and simply doesn’t want to be told to do one more thing.
“Staying positive to manage stress is something that comes up a lot when we talk about caregivers,” says Jimmie Fay Griffin, Executive Director of YourLife™ of Tallahassee. “It’s an incredibly important and useful tool, because thinking positively has been proven to have multiple benefits, and since caregivers don’t ever care for themselves as much as they do for others, any tools we can give them is a big help. Still, a lot of advice is just ‘lip service’ or doesn’t always get to the root of the situation. Look at it this way: we’ve all heard the safety directions when we fly about ‘putting on your own oxygen mask before helping others out.’ But they don’t talk to you about how to deal with the emotional burdens that can come with putting yourself first: shame, guilt, anger at the situation and more.”
Griffin goes on to state that it’s those internal stressors that can wear caregivers down more than the actual physical burdens. “Caregivers can recognize the importance of self-care, and can even be very good about getting it for themselves, but what they may not address is the amount of time and energy spent worrying about what could happen in the future, or what others think about us, or lying awake at night imagining scenarios we have no control over. It’s important to recognize that learning to understand and work with those thoughts is just as important as spending time doing hobbies we love or getting enough exercise.”
The solution to this, says Griffin, is remaining positive – but before you roll your eyes and chalk this up as yet another platitude, read on.
The Power of Positivity
What does it really mean to be a positive person? And – the real question here – how can you be positive and optimistic when faced with negativity, stress and difficulty that is seemingly endless?
First of all, being positive doesn’t mean being sunny, cheery and always looking on the bright side of life. According to Rick Hanson, Ph. D. (and caregiver himself), who authored the book Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom, being positive doesn’t mean ignoring the bad; it simply means that you see the world accurately, take the bad in stride and focus on the good as much as possible. Good news: you don’t have to be born positive to reap the benefits. You can train yourself to be more optimistic overall.
Practicing positivity may seem phony, especially at first. That’s because the human brain instinctually is geared to have a “negativity bias.” According to Hansen, this is a built-in survival mechanism that allows us to focus with laser-like precision on the threatening or bad aspects of our environment. This was very important in the days when not paying attention meant you might get eaten by a bear or killed by a rival tribe, but perhaps not so important in the 21st century.
So what are tips caregivers can use to see the good in situations, especially when it’s not apparently obvious? Here are three suggestions from Hansen about how to teach yourself to be more optimistic:
- Look for areas in life that you can control.
It’s unfortunate, but realistic, to say that caregivers are like the proverbial nail – hammered down on a consistent basis by life, those they care for, family members and just about everything else. When you’re feeling really beaten down, says Hansen, it’s incredibly important to remember the things you can control.
There are three main areas to focus on: external (like fixing a squeaky door or getting the car’s oil changed), corporeal (taking care of our bodies by exercising and doing what’s good for our health) and mental (managing our emotions and focusing our energy and attention). No matter how bad things may seem, there’s always at least one of these three areas that caregivers can affect. As we’ve mentioned before, it doesn’t mean ignoring the bad things. It means accepting difficulties and choosing to change your perspective and focus your efforts on more rewarding results.
- Soak up happiness where you can find it.
Negative experiences tend to stick to us and we mull on them and circle them in our brains again and again. Positive experiences, however, tend to just slip through our memories as we experience them. That doesn’t really seem fair, does it? So part of training yourself to become more positive is recognizing the positive and learning how to hold on to it so it doesn’t just ‘slip away.’ By reflecting on something positive and optimistic, no matter how small, you can digest and attach emotion to the moment. That’s something our brains aren’t naturally trained to do, so it can take some time to become a habit. But according to Hansen, focusing on ten positive experiences for ten seconds each every day can help you train your brain to retain that pure happiness, which you can draw on during the dark times.
- Reach out and connect with others.
No man is an island, and no caregiver can be the best he or she can be without a solid social network. Although it’s difficult, it’s important for caregivers to seek out social interactions as often as possible. It’s easier to become optimistic when you’re with other people (something about being with others who aren’t enmeshed in your situation who can give you a different perspective), particularly because you gain friendly ears, supportive shoulders and camaraderie. While it’s difficult to find time to socialize when you’re a caregiver, the fact of the matter is that you just need to make time for it. And it doesn’t have to be throwing parties or joining a club. Even interacting with children and animals can provide caregivers with much-needed interaction, perspective and comfort.
It’s true that the power of positive thinking won’t reverse a loved one’s dementia progression, or give you unlimited funds to help pay doctors’ bills. However, by viewing the world in a more balanced way, caregivers can “get out of their heads” and recognize the beauty of the world. Sure, that sounds trite, but the truth of the matter is that by being a happier, more positive caregiver, you’re more able to provide caring support to your loved one – while being a healthier and more well-rounded person yourself.
For more tips on how to be a more effective caregiver to a loved one with dementia, please contact our team today at 850-250-5671.
Inspired ● Engaged ● Fulfilled
If someone you love is living with memory loss, you want the very best for them. You’ll find it at YourLife™ of Tallahassee. Because Memory Care is all that we do, we have the unique ability to focus all our energy, attention and resources into creating an environment that caters to each resident’s needs, preferences and abilities while providing unequaled peace of mind and support for families.
We see each resident as an individual because we understand that each resident has their own story. Using this idea, we develop personally inspired care plans that value and support each person’s independence while creating beautiful days. No matter how much care they need, our team of attentive, caring YourLife™ Personal Care Specialists can provide assistance with all activities of daily living while providing reminders, guidance, support and cues. Even better, residents and their families experience true peace of mind knowing that expert care is on site 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Our personal touch doesn’t stop at our care. In fact, it’s only the beginning. We create days that leave residents feeling Inspired. Engaged. Fulfilled through our signature programming, YourStory. With individual experiences centered around each resident, engaging outings, services and amenities, activities, dining and more, we create opportunities to learn and pursue new endeavors. At YourLife™ of Tallahassee, everything was designed for you, but it is defined by you, creating a lifestyle that makes every day a joy. Contact us to learn more!